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Re: [XTalk] Essay: Orthodox Death Tradition Misssrepresents Jesus

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  • Bob Schacht
    ... There follows a great deal of verbiage, from which I am going to extract a few crucial quotes. My point will be that Ed has mischaracterized his results--
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 29, 2005
      At 04:38 PM 7/29/2005, Ed Jones wrote:

      >...I presume to offer a “new” approach to the HJ. New from the standpoint
      >it proceeds from a crucial difference in methodology from that followed by
      >the Jesus Seminar. That difference in briefest shorthand: “Here the first
      >step is historical rather than hermeneutic ­ the step of reconstructing the
      >history of tradition - - so as to thereby identify the earliest stratum in
      >this tradition which is the real Christian canon - - the writings of the New
      >Testament can no longer be assumed to constitute a proper canon”. (Ogden,
      >see below).

      There follows a great deal of verbiage, from which I am going to extract a
      few crucial quotes. My point will be that Ed has mischaracterized his
      results-- that is, he has built a good case for the early importance of the
      SM, but that importance does not constitute a "proper canon" in the sense
      usually meant. In compiling a summary of 4 seminal contributions to HJ
      studies over the past 250 years, of which the third was:

      >3) Walter Bauer's claim (1934): Primitive Christianity never existed -
      >earliest "heresies" were simply varied understandings of the Christian
      >message. Only after the fourth century did a uniform and orthodox
      >understanding of Christianity begin to emerge. Paul's thought and theology
      >was but one among numerous understandings of early Christianity.

      At this point, warning bells should be sounding, because it would appear
      that Bauer's thesis contradicts the very goal that Ed purports to strive for.
      Jones resumes:

      > From the writings of Ogden, an article in Christian Century December17,
      >1080, “Faith and Freedom”:

      Gee, Christian Century has been publishing a LOT longer than I thought! <g>

      >“...this raises the question of just what is properly taken to be the
      >norm. ...
      >one distinguishes between the Bible itself and the so-called biblical
      >message contained within it, which is taken to be the real source of the
      >N.T. authority in terms of its own essential witness - the distinction
      >between the canon of Scripture itself and the canon within the canon.”
      >”Presupposing the canon in determining the Scriptural witness (otherwise one
      >is open to the charge of being arbitrary), one is faced with the objection
      >that the writings of the N.T. can no longer be assumed to constitute a
      >proper canon.

      There are a number of problems with this: what is "proper", what is a
      "canon", and a number of sectarian questions. Who decides what a canon is?
      Who decides whether it is "proper" or not? For example, some early
      Christians included the Shepherd of Hermes in their canon, IIRC.

      >This objection rests on the claim that, given our present
      >historical methods and knowledge, none of the writings of Scripture as such
      >can be held to satisfy the early church's own criteria of apostolicity
      >(i.e.) none of the writings of the N.T. is apostolic witness to (the HJ) as
      >the early church itself understood apostolicity - all of them have been
      >shown to depend on sources, written or oral, earlier than themselves, and
      >hence not to be the original and originating witness the early church
      >mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic.”

      When he says "early church," what does he mean? Does he always mean the
      same thing?

      >”The witness of the apostles is still rightly taken to be the real
      >Christian norm,

      Doesn't this make the assumption that the witness of the apostles is
      homogeneous and consistent throughout?
      If it does not make this assumption, then you have the problem of
      differences within the "norm," which would appear to obviate the kind of
      consensus he and you seem to have in mind.

      >...(The late) Willi Marxsen argues - in my opinion
      >convincingly - that the real Christian norm is the witness to Jesus that
      >makes up the earliest layer of the synoptic tradition.

      Ah. So we start by excluding John. On what basis?

      >This so-called Jesus-kerygma, which is very definitely Christian witness
      >... represents the earliest witness of faith that we
      >today are in a position to recover. Therefore, it is here if anywhere - in
      >what Marxsen speaks of as "the canon before the canon" - that we must now
      >locate the witness of the apostles that abides as the real Christian norm.”

      So far this strikes me as not much different from what the Jesus Seminar
      has been doing.

      >This proposal implies - that Scripture is the sole primary source of
      >Christian witness

      Sole? Why sole? He/you exclude not only GJohn but also GThomas? By
      excluding non-canonical sources you are, in effect, privileging the NT in
      general, and the Gospels in particular.

      > rather than its sole norm and that the first step is
      >reconstructing the history of tradition of which the first three Gospels are
      >the documentation, so as thereby to identify the earliest stratum in this
      >tradition, which is the real Christian canon by which even Scripture has
      >whatever authority it has.

      Which is essentially what Crossan and the Jesus Seminar claim to have done.

      >But there seems little reason to doubt that this kind of reconstruction can
      >be successfully carried out.

      Here's where I have to start snipping.

      >...The following is Betz's highly significant contribution to this "new"
      >approach to HJ reconstruction. In his monumental commentary on the Sermon on
      >the Mount he persuasively identifies this earliest stratum of Christian
      >witness to be the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3, 6, 7:27).

      What does Betz say about Q? The logic being pressed here could be equally
      used to argue for the priority and canonicity of Q, could it not?
      Or, as implied below (but snipped), does he argue for Matthean priority,
      and considers Mark late? or is that just Robinson?

      >...But the truly disturbing problem arises for the community only when they
      >discover that there are other Christians who have drawn very different
      >conclusions from the teachings of Jesus. (The Pauline Gentile community).

      Well, Paul seems not to have paid much attention to the *teachings* of
      Jesus. And the Pauline Gentile community were probably not the only ones
      who drew different conclusions. The "Community" of John? The Gospel of
      Thomas folks?

      >...James M. Robinson commenting on Betz's Commentary on the SM: "Betz for two
      >decades or more, argued forcefully that the SM was not composed by the
      >Evangelist, but was written around 50 CE as an epitome of Jesus' teachings
      >for use in the Jewish Christian Mission authorized by the Jerusalem
      >Council. In this way Betz was able to use the SM as documentation for the
      >other side of the Pauline debate analyzed in his Galatians commentary.
      >Indeed Betz made a point of highlighting subtle anti-Pauline polemics he
      >found imbedded in the SM. The SM is not just the first of the five Matthean
      >discourses. It is Betz who deserves credit for having called our attention
      >to the unavoidable fact that the SM is something special, not only as the
      >classic statement of Jesus teaching, but in the way it came to be."
      >...Betz's highlighting of subtle anti-Pauline polemics he found imbedded
      >in the
      >Sermon on the Mount (SM), pointedly demonstrates the depth of the
      >theological conflict that existed between the two inaugural communities most
      >significant to Christian origins: Gentile Pauline Christians with their
      >emphasis on the salvific effects of Jesus' death and resurrection and Jewish
      >Christians with their emphasis on the sayings tradition.

      Where you're obviously headed here is "Matthew" got it right, and Paul got
      it wrong.

      >...The following from Betz's SM commentary (pp323-328) pointedly presents
      >Pauline theology and the theology of the SM as representing two
      >fundamentally different gospels....

      Quoting Robinson?
      >"But when one turns to Matthew (the SM), the contacts with the
      >Sayings Gospel Q are so striking that one has now to realize that the Gospel
      >of Matthew was written in a congregation that itself had been part of the
      >Saying Gospel's movement."
      >Finally Patrick J. Hartin's significant contribution to this "new" approach
      >to HJ reconstruction with his "A Spirituality of Perfection, Faith in Action
      >in the Letter of James": ..."The differences between the two
      >traditions of Paul and James caused a cloud of suspicion to fall upon the
      >letter [of James]. These connections argue for a common religious heritage
      >for both.
      >Just as the Sermon on the Mount reproduces the heart of Jesus' teaching, so
      >does the letter of James continue Jesus' message. ...
      >In sum, the most certain canon (i.e. apostolic Scripture witness source for
      >HJ reconstruction) is the Sermon on the Mount (the primary source for the
      >Gospel of Matthew) and the Epistle of James (the sole writing of the N.T.
      >which may be so designated.
      >Ed Jones

      In sum, your claim is that Matthew, in the SM, got it right, the other
      synoptics were based on Matthew, and the "canons" of Paul, John, Thomas,
      etc. got it wrong and do not represent the "most certain canon."

      Recalling Bauer, one might say that all you've done is to take sides in the
      heteroxy of the first century, siding with "Matthew" against all others on
      the grounds that Matthew's testimony is based on apostolic witness, and
      none of the others can make that claim?

      I suggest that Matthew may be early, and may have some priority, but that
      it does not constitute a canon. A canon requires more than apostolic
      witness: it also requires certification by a Christian body that the text
      is true, authentic, and reliable. There is really not much evidence that
      GMatthew had that kind of sanction.
      Certainly this "canon," if that is what it was, was not "catholic", i.e.
      universally accepted by Christians as the sole authority.

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